HC Deb 06 March 2001 vol 364 cc132-5
2. Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister concerning the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [150734]

6. Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister concerning the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [150739]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes)

My right hon. Friend regularly meets the First Minister to discuss a range of topics, including the Government's anti-drugs strategy.

Mrs. Adams

Does my hon. Friend agree that legalisation of any drug, other than for medical purposes, would be absolute folly? Will he join me in stating publicly that he will march against drugs on 1 April, shoulder to shoulder with Daily Record readers?

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. Some people are trying to denigrate the march on 1 April, but I think that the Daily Record deserves nothing but praise for organising a march that will focus attention on the menace of drugs and the terrible toll—[Laughter.] Opposition Members are laughing. The menace of drugs takes a terrible toll in death, illness and crime. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is out of order. He knows that he is out of order.

Mr. Foulkes

The right hon. Gentleman is out of order in more ways than one.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will be on the march, and we hope that as many hon. Friends as possible will join us. If Opposition Members can find their way to Glasgow, they are welcome to join us, too.

Mrs. Winterton

What discussions has the Minister had with the First Minister about setting up in Scotland United States-style drugs courts, which aim to bring together enforcement and treatment and to take people out of a life of criminality? Bearing in mind that almost 70 per cent. of offenders use drugs illegally, and that in Scotland up to 90 per cent. of those released from prison go on to reoffend, does the Minister agree that the matter is of the utmost urgency? Will he consider ensuring that those who push drugs are not released early from prison?

Mr. Foulkes

I am glad that the hon. Lady, unlike some of her right hon. and hon. Friends, is treating the matter seriously. The First Minister has met Mr. Hellawell, who is in charge of drugs policy in the United Kingdom as a whole, as well as the Cabinet Officer Minister responsible for drugs policy. An announcement has been made about drugs courts, and we will take account of the points that the hon. Lady has sensibly made.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

May I, too, congratulate the Daily Record on organising such a relevant march on 1 April, and say how pleasant it is that so many hon. Members will participate in it? Will my hon. Friend outline the recent measures announced by the Government to seize the ill-gotten assets of people who traffic in drugs? That seems to be one of the best ways of tackling the problem and getting rid of the insidious evil in our midst.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is right. The Government are taking strong measures to deal with that menace and other profits from crime, to ensure that they are taken into custody. I commend the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) in proposing the setting up of a register of serious drug dealers. I know from my constituency the tragedy and appalling waste of life and talent involved. We are working with the Scottish Executive on their drugs action plans to deal with the availability of drugs, the treatment of addicts, the education of young people and, above all, the provision of community support for people who take drugs. The police have an extremely important part to play in that.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

Unusually, I commend the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) for her courageous work against drugs over many years. I find some of the Minister's remarks perfectly reasonable—[Interruption.] I am sorry if that is offensive to him. On the matter of drugs, as on other important policy matters, what steps does the Scotland Office intend to take to ensure that, during any forthcoming general election campaign, announcements will not be made by the Scottish Executive that could be construed as using public funds to help Labour candidates or their partners in coalition, the Liberal Democrats?

Mr. Foulkes

I thank the hon. Lady for her nice remarks, and congratulate her on her recent good news. We all wish her well, and our thoughts will be with her over the next few months.

Every year, the Scottish Executive spend more than £250 million dealing with sickness, absenteeism and crime caused by the awful problem of drugs. It would be ludicrous to put that work on hold and to stop any announcement just because of a United Kingdom general election. If there is any announcement to be made or any work to be done, it should be made and it should be done.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the police in my constituency, as well as the partners who work with them, on reducing crime by 20 per cent? This morning, I spoke to the sub-divisional commander, who told me that he estimates that at out 80 per cent. of crimes involving dishonesty, including car thefts, relate to the misuse of drugs. Does my hon. Friend agree that to break that connection we need a long-term strategy that does two things? First, through legislation that can be passed in this Parliament, the strategy should target the dealers. Secondly, and in partnership, it should deal with drug users by imposing a structure on their lives that will lead them out of their habit. Orders to achieve that aim could be imposed by the drugs courts introduced by the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whom I congratulated earlier on his initiative to establish a register of serious drugs dealers. It would be too much to congratulate him again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] All right; why not? His work certainly deserves underlining. He is absolutely right that the police play a very important role, and has been discussing the matter with them. Indeed, all Scottish Members are concerned and have been speaking to the local police. Many have also been involved in local community activity to try to wipe out the drugs menace. It is increasingly appalling, if not embarrassing, that Opposition Members treat with such levity a problem that has killed hundreds of people every year in Scotland. I think that the people of Scotland will have noted that.